The title of Joan Kron’s documentary Take My Nose … Please is creepily suggestive: a Henny Youngman–esque one-liner over a world of pain. The subject is plastic surgery; the subjects are women comedians, and their habit of mining their bodies for laughs.
As The Substance of Style author Virginia Postrel points out, they were the first group to “own up” to their dissatisfaction with their looks and the first and loudest to proclaim their decisions to have surgery. Kron, who is 89 and spent 25 years as a contributing editor of Allure, leans toward the positive aspects of having “work” — nose jobs, face lifts, liposuction, Botox, whatever. But it’s a rough ride to that resolution. Early in the film, Margaret Cho nails both sides of the issue in her stand-up act, decrying plastic surgery as “brainwashing, mutilation, and manipulation of women.” Beat. “I’m still gonna get it, though.”
Kron’s strategy is to follow the lives, careers, and potential surgeries of two funny girls while weaving in bits of history and commentary and jokes, lots of jokes. I use the term “funny girls” advisedly, since one historical tidbit is that Funny Girl vaudeville star Fanny Brice — who made her name as an ethnic-Jewish contrast to the leggy Ziegfeld girls who’d perform alongside her — was later seen on the front page of the New York Times preparing for a nose job.
The process was relatively new. It was just over a century ago, historian Paula J. Martin explains, that French plastic-surgery pioneer Suzanne Noël offered her services to women gratis, hoping to empower them in a world increasingly dominated by male, magazine-cover standards of beauty. She said she was liberating women from judgment. If only.
It’s scary to watch in this context of the routine of female comedians who became rich and famous making fun of their looks. Here are Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson introducing one after another: Phyllis Diller being carried around by young men singing that she’s the most beautiful girl in the world. Totie Fields mincing to “I Feel Pretty.” Joan Rivers babbling jokes about her mother’s revulsion and disappointment.
Fields, of course, lost a leg after her plastic surgery led to a blood clot, and Rivers … we know. (How did Diller spend the decades after her plastic surgery? I never saw that much of her when her subject stopped being her bad looks.)
Amy Schumer’s celebrated Twelve Angry Men satire — in which schlubby males debate whether she’s hot enough to have her own TV show — seems, in comparison, blessedly sane. (It’s the men who are the fools.) Kron also samples Schumer’s astounding “Last Fuckable Day” sketch, in which several of our finest actresses are shown having cheerfully internalized the male-dominated industry’s insane double standards about female aging.